The Way

The path of desire
does not follow right angles
or obey the warning signs.

It cuts diagonals across vacant lots,
crawls through holes in chain-link fences
and treads on broken glass.

Bloody footprints mark the way,
one set flat and wide, the other
with narrow heels like ripe red plums.


Previously published at Contemporary American Voices, Lisa Zaran, Editor, where I was the featured poet in June 2012. To read my work and the poems of my invited guests Joanna S. Lee and Bryan Borland, scroll down the left column at Contemporary American Voices and click on the June 2012 link.



SHE IS DRIFTING in the warm lulling roar of the laundromat. She is a writer of erotica, and she has her standards. No vampires, no werewolves, no zombies.  She’s no prude; au contraire, light bondage is just too trendy, has lost its appeal for her.

The way afternoon light kisses clean sheets. The breeze that stirs the curtains. Bare skin in all its colors, how it blushes and blotches and glows. Her reflection in the fish-eyed dryer door, her lips around the long straw in her frappuccino. She sucks it dry and revels in the throaty gurgle of the last drops. Clothes tumble round and round, a mad chase of bras and panties.

TO PUSH THROUGH the heavy glass door of the laundromat warm and moist and thrummy into the hard winter air is to be born again, the same gulping reflex. She does not cry, just hurries along the patchy sidewalk, past the bodega-slash-taqueria, down the 6th Street grade toward the coast highway, canvas bag over her shoulder. The houses are ragged, perched uncertainly on small lots. Her scalp itches under an acrylic ski hat.

Fort Bragg is that kind of town, not far from Frisco but closer to Coos Bay or Aberdeen by the looks of it. You’re not supposed to say Frisco but she doesn’t care. Sometimes she walks aimlessly for hours, hands jammed in her front pockets. Her jeans are looser this year, held up by a braided hemp rope.  Her old boyfriend said she was hipless as a snake. He was a classic inland dumbfuck from a place called Leggett Hill. He talked her into a three-way in the back bedroom with a bleached blonde with big floppy tits after a long night of drinking, which left her feeling hung over and inadequate. She quit him, and tequila, cold turkey the next morning after throwing up in the kitchen sink.

Thank God she wasn’t pregnant. Lots of erotica writers are, you know. No one knows why, and she doesn’t want to find out.

THE CEILING is a familiar tension of cracks, plate tectonics. She lies alone on the stripped mattress. She is a candle that will not stay lit, a wax figure in a darkening room. Click of the radiator. She wants to be Lucinda Williams purring I lie on my back and moan at the ceiling, but all she can hear is Amanda Palmer singing the first orgasm of the morning is like a fire drill, it’s nice to have a little a little warning but not enjoyable.

They told her California would fall into the sea. Take me, she whispers, I’m already underwater.

THE PARTICULAR BRIEF PANIC of waking alone in the dark, unsure for a moment whether it is a.m. or p.m.  The absence of sea gull cries. She pulls on her skinny jeans, zips her boots. Puts water on for tea. Lights a cigarette off the blue gas flame. Calls Jeanna. Come on. Fuck, no answer. She still owes me $40.

On her iPod, Aretha sings you make me feel like a na-tuh-ral wo-mun. Breathe. Okay.
This is her territory, the streets at night. Cap pulled low, hair tucked in her army surplus coat, hands in fingerless gloves, fists pushed into pockets.

As she strides through the double shadows between street lights, passersby think she’s a boy.

SHE IS HALFWAY through the overnight shift at the call center. Her given name is Julie but she has gone by Rainy ever since some crazy bitch threatened to kill her over a mistake on her phone bill.

Sometimes, after midnight mostly, when she asks is there anything else I can help you with, men will tell her she sounds pretty, ask her to describe herself, what she’s wearing, the size and shape of her breasts, the color and style of her panties, where she likes to be touched. She has one of those voices that arouses the perverts who have questions about their long distance charges or data plans, makes them ask her to mail them her panties after she has worn them first. Sometimes, on slow nights, she talks to them for a while, plays along, humors them, to the annoyance of the gal in the next cubicle, a Bible banger. After all, she majored in English at Santa Cruz.

After two, hardly anyone calls. She gets up to stretch her legs and pee. She locks the door, hovers over the toilet, tinkles, does a little shake, pulls her jeans over her hip bones, leans toward the mirror over the sink, studies her face at close range. She is 28 but still gets carded.

A PALE ROSY DAWN blooms as she climbs the stairs to her apartment. The laundry is still in the bag. She is too tired to make breakfast, too tired to make the bed. She takes off all her clothes, even her wool socks, and wraps herself tightly in the old red quilt. She closes her eyes and is already half asleep, dreaming of hands touching her, on her legs, on her belly, stroking her softly. Sleep is her heavy blanket, her patient lover, her only friend, the demarcation of one lonely day from the one before and the one yet to come.


Paris is Raining

Water is raining down Montmartre, rivulets leaking to the Seine. Josep feels like a martyr, the slow torture of wet feet. The stitching of his leather shoes is rotting; that’s the kind of winter it has been. Paloma hugs his left elbow with her two impatient hands and leans her head on his shoulder like Suze Rotolo as they go freewheelin’ to déjeuner. Little birds scatter from a puddle, a flurry of wings, les oiseaux she says under her breath, in kinship. She could live on bread and butter, and strong coffee, bien sûr.


Paloma and Josep sit silently, side by side in a black car, each watching a world blur away through tinted glass. Her hands worry in the nest of her lap like brood mates. His spine is a ramrod. The world is desultory, patches of olive and dun and abandon. Her ring is a dew claw — functionless, prone to catching on things, to getting caught.

Josep Is Away

Paloma is crossing the Pont des Arts. They took down the iron grillwork and the thousands of love locks. The brass Abloy with J+P scratched into the side. Last fall they locked it beneath the third streetlamp and tossed the key into the Seine. It is too hot for September, 30 and humid. Paloma stops, scratches at the bandage wrapped around her left wrist and hand, pokes her fingernail under the flesh-toned wrap and rakes at the skin of the back of her hand. A pigeon flies off with something in its beak. She is staring into the water, how it flows around the footings in ripples that are never urgent. Beyond the shadow, the surface of the water is too bright, full of sky and clouds.

Les Nymphéas

Josep is in the Musée de l’Orangerie, waiting for Paloma. He sits in the center of an oval room surrounded by Monet’s water lilies, une petite tempête, a little storm in the eye of the calm. Paloma is wandering the Jardin des Tuileries, unmindful of the hour. Errant raindrops, carried on the rising wind from some faraway cloud, splat the red clay path. Paloma looks skyward, wondering, while Josep is sitting on the oval bench, head tilted back, his eyes two black slits. He is staring cross-eyed past the semi-opacity of his aquiline nose at an opulence of purple and green wavering in and out of focus, trying to understand whether it would be possible to experience any comfort during a dreamless, endless sleep.

Paloma crosses the Place de la Concorde, walks down the long stairs to the Metro and boards the 8 for Pointe du Lac. The stations pass like days, light and dark, light and dark, the rattle and sway, the rhythm of her newly decided life.

Tell Me What You See, Mistress Moon

Mistress Moon, I feel your million-mile stare
over my shoulder as I cross the black plain
of night, but my weak Earth-bound eyes only
see the dumb grin on your pock-marked face.

You are the shape and heft of light and its absence.
In your wax and wane we know death and birth
and the mighty tug of sea-tide and womb-blood.
Tell me what you see in your blue-white sight.

Mice scurrying across the wind-spun snow,
the red-eyed wolf, the faint glow of my heart,
more ash than ember? Can you penetrate
the caul of deceit that smothers me, beneath

to the field of tiny stars tattooed across my chest?
Have you missed your mother these four billion
years, or did you long ago turn your best side
away from her, toward the cold fires of eternity?

A January Poem

Written Jan. 2, 2012, this poem appeared in my e-chapbook titled Wind Fierce as Love published a few years ago by Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.


Six sandhill cranes
land in a field
ringed by cottonwoods.

Dry grass,
wind-combed cornstalks,
thin snow rind in fence shade.

Chain clanging
on a metal flagpole,
Oglala drumbeat.

Weak sun setting,
half moon rising
like me without you

on New Year’s Day
in a wind
fierce as love.


Another Perspective

Another poem about the view from a different perspective, also featured at VerseWrights.

Poets on the Moon

Two poets met on the moon. They stood on the acute rim of ink-black shadow and paper-white silence. There was no birdsong, no river wild, just the ghosts of old dogs willed to the object of their howling. They looked up at the blue Earth, where they saw themselves not as far apart as they had imagined. Without shifting their gaze, they clasped hand, fingers interlaced, heads empty as craters, hearts full of stardust, thirsty, beneath a bright, watery planet.


13 poems at VerseWrights, Oh my!

My poet page at VerseWrights, Carl Sharpe, editor:

(click here to open a new window for ray’s page) 

Here is one of them, about perspective:


tetsugaku no michi

a hand
not yours
on the philosopher’s path

you behind the lens

how the old
carved stones
tramp straight

into a future
where two borders
of trees merge
into one

sometime later
on the tracks
over may island

nose to steel
and nothing’s changed

time is still linear
hemmed by dark foliage
but with a pronounced